TOLEDO, Ohio – Former U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley, who helped write landmark anti-fraud legislation following a wave of corporate scandals that brought down Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., died Friday at age 71.
Oxley died in his sleep in McLean, Virginia, after suffering from non-small cell lung cancer, a type of lung cancer seen in nonsmokers, said his wife, Patricia Oxley. Mike Oxley was chairman of the Lung Cancer Alliance board of directors.
Though his cancer was a shock to the nonsmoker, he took the diagnosis in stride, said Laurie Fenton Ambrose, the alliance’s president and CEO.
Oxley “never lost his irreverent sense of humor and his distinctive laugh that could be heard throughout the office whenever he came by for a visit,” Ambrose said.
The country “has lost a great public servant and I have lost a great friend and mentor,” Gov. John Kasich said.
The Ohio Republican left Congress in 2007 after 25 years in the House, where he devoted most of his time to issues involving corporate oversight and insurance protection.
His district included Champaign County near the end of his term in the House, and he was succeeded in the Fourth District by Jim Jordan in 2007.
“I was saddened to learn of Mike Oxley’s passing after a long and courageous battle with cancer,” said Jordan on Friday. “He was a friend, a mentor, and one of the finest public servants I’ve ever met. From the FBI, to the state legislature, to serving with distinction for 25 years as Fourth District Congressman, he reached pinnacles of power, but he never lost touch with the common sense values he learned growing up in Findlay.
“I know that throughout his life, he cared deeply about his community, state, and nation. We should all be thankful that decent people like Mike Oxley are willing to commit their lives to public service. Polly and I send our prayers and condolences to Pat, Chadd and the entire Oxley family.”
While in the House, Oxley led an effort to investigate failed energy giant Enron and helped create new accounting requirements in the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The law reshaped corporate oversight after accounting scandals in 2001-2002 at Enron, WorldCom and other major corporations exposed inadequate internal controls and auditors who had become too cozy with the companies whose books they examined. Those corporate scandals and others wiped out retirement accounts, cost investors billions and pushed people out of work.
Small companies later complained that the law Oxley helped create brought added costs to comply with requirements for reports on their internal financial controls.
Pro-business conservatives argued that a board established to oversee the accounting industry and the industry’s own regulators had violated the separation of powers and challenged the law in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 agreed that the law violated the Constitution’s separation of powers mandate. But its decision required only a slight change in allowing the removal of members of the oversight board.
In the House, Oxley was chairman of the financial services committee, which has jurisdiction over banking and Wall Street issues.
The Blade newspaper reported in 2003 that after Oxley became chairman, he had raised $920,000 from securities and investment firms, $740,000 from insurance companies, $480,000 from banks and $330,000 from accountants. Oxley said the reports of fundraising influencing policy were ludicrous.
Oxley, a former FBI agent, advocated giving police greater ability to unscramble encrypted computer files. He was the chief House sponsor of legislation requiring operators of commercial websites to restrict young people’s access to sexually explicit material.
He was an FBI agent for three years before he was elected to the Ohio House in 1972. He won a special election to the U.S. House in 1981 by 341 votes to fill a vacancy caused by the death of GOP Rep. Tennyson Guyer.
Oxley rarely faced a close election after that, especially since his district in rural northwest Ohio was one of the state’s most solidly Republican seats and included his hometown of Findlay.
Following his retirement, Oxley became a lobbyist in the financial sector. He was also a member of the University of Findlay board of trustees and active with Miami University of Ohio, his alma mater.
He is survived by his wife, a son and a grandson.